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A Tribute To One of the Best Centers of Our Time: Dikembe Mutombo

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IApril 22, 2009

Dikembe Mutombo announced today he will retire after injuring his knee in the first quarter of the Rockets-Trailblazers second playoff game Tuesday night.

Dikembe Mutombo began his life in the NBA 18 years ago, when the Denver Nuggets drafted him fourth overall in the 1991 draft.

For five seasons with the Nuggets he was a dominant center, grabbing rebounds and using his razor-sharp elbows as guards against the ball. He used the move so many times, occasionally injuring opponents, that the league banned the move and made it an offensive foul.

Mutombo had an amazing career, spanning 19 years and six teams, but his best years were in a Nuggets uniform. For Denver, Mutombo averaged 13 points and over 12 rebounds a game, and was the centerpiece of the good young team in the early 90s.

He even once pulled down a staggering 31 rebounds in one game! Whole teams have trouble getting that many sometimes.

Mutombo can best be remembered for his finger waggling, a celebration he loved to perform after an emphatic blocked shot. With Denver, Mutombo averaged almost four blocks a game (3.8)! For comparison, in 2008-09, Dwight Howard was the league's best blocker at a measly 2.9 per. Mutombo became the first ever NBA player to lead the league in blocked shots three straight years, from 1992-1995.

All those blocked shots and great defense led to Mutombo being named the NBA's first four-time Defensive Player of the Year, an honor he received once while playing with the Nuggets. He also went to eight all star games, three while in Denver.

The greatest career highlight Mutombo had, in my eyes, was leading the Nuggets as the first ever eight seed to take down a No. 1 overall.

Sure, Denver had a solid young team with Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, Dale Ellis, LaPhonso Ellis and others, but Mutombo was the reason the Nuggets even had a chance. In the 1994 playoffs against the Sonics and Jazz, Mutombo averaged 13 points, 12 rebounds, and an amazing 5.8 blocks per game.

As the series was eventually won in five games by Denver, Mutombo became stricken with emotions and cried on the court for all to see. The moment was magical because so few times do we see our heroes cry, especially in sports.

Dikembe, or Mt. Mutombo as he was called in Denver, was not only one of the greatest centers of all time, but one of my childhood idols. His jersey was the first I ever owned, and I remember once going to the Denver Children's Museum and being awestruck by his life-size cardboard cut-out and game shoes that were there.

For me, Mutombo was "larger than life," on and off the basketball court, and I remember being sad the day the Nuggets were "Bernie Bickerstaffed." Bickerstaff was the Nuggets GM at the time, and after the 1994-1995 season, decided to have a fire sale of seemingly the whole Nuggets team. The largest part of the team, Mutombo, was now gone.

Mutombo went on to play another 14 seasons and was a solid player for many of them, although his numbers steadily decreased from his Nugget days.

Now that all is said and done though, Mutombo deserves some recognition. First of all, the Denver Nuggets must retire his number and hang it in the Pepsi Center rafters. Next, it would be nice to see Stan Kroenke erect a statue in his honor in front of the beautiful stadium.

Finally, the NBA needs to realize Dikembe Mutombo's accomplishments, legend, and lore and put him into the hall of fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

He was never flashy on the offensive end, but was always dominant on the defensive one.

Mutombo was just the best center of our time, and perhaps, the last true big man of the NBA.

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